We caught up with Jam, an LSE student who volunteered in Uganda for ten weeks last summer to find out more about his role, the NGO and what he thought he achieved.

This past summer I’ve spent ten weeks in Uganda as a project worker for Education Partnerships Africa (EPAfrica), a UK Charity and East African NGO that works with rural secondary schools in Kenya and Uganda. My project trio was assigned to Shuuku Vocational, a school located in a small trading centre in southwest Uganda.

EPAfrica works to improve the quality of education by directly partnering with secondary schools and equipping them with a solid resource base. The NGO sends teams of projects workers (UK university students recruited from Oxford, Cambridge, and London) to engage directly with staff and administration with the aim of making a long-term impact in the schools we work with using money fundraised over the course of the year.

My role as a project worker involves immersing myself into the school by talking with staff and students, observing lessons and seeing how the school runs on a day-to-day basis. With this insight, we may decide to invest in durable resources where the school is lacking (in our case lab equipment), work with the staff to clarify school administrative policy, and/or set up various initiatives to improve student welfare.

Some of the initiatives we worked on:

1) Bought a water tank and set up a low-cost water purification scheme in the school so students have access to potable water.

2) Worked with administration to appoint an official career counsellor, helping her set up the school’s very first Careers Day and organizing a system to keep record of alumni so that students can receive advice about their future whether it is pursuing higher education or more vocational work.

3) Invested in a substantial amount of lab equipment for the school and worked with the physics, biology, and chemistry departments to ensure that this investment will be translated into more practical science lessons for students.

4) Implemented a scheme for female students, which teaches them how to make reusable sanitary pads.

My time in Uganda was absolutely outstanding, and it gave me great first-hand experience of grassroots international development. The summer project allowed me to have more experience working in a dynamic team with other dedicated individuals interested in development, develop my communication skills, whether it was debating how to best implement a digital library system or proposing to the administration a new pilot programme to enhance student learning, and learn how to be creative and adaptable when setting goals and making decisions that have a real impact on your environment.

The project worker experience gives you the autonomy to make decisions and develop programmes, within the EPAfrica model, according to what you and your project partners feel is best for the school. It is a great deal of responsibility but it is without a doubt one of the most varied and stimulating experiences of my life. Initially I was quite cynical about doing a summer volunteering trip since they tend to be a more like ‘charity tourism’; more concerned with taking nice photos than actually doing sustainable work but I found Education Partnerships Africa to be an organization that works in a thoughtful way with disadvantaged communities in the developing world.

The people that I’ve met in Uganda and the experiences we shared were probably the most fulfilling parts of the project for me. From sharing a meal at the home of the school director with his family, to watching cheesy Spanish language soap operas at the local restaurant with fellow project workers, to talking to students about football and music, the rich and dynamic social network I was embedded in was brilliant. I’ll never forget the feeling of landing in Entebbe airport, nervous but eager for the ten weeks ahead of me. I’ll never forget being greeted by a student marching band when we first arrived at the school, after driving through three hours of rock-strewn roads. I’ll never forget the satisfaction of climbing 4,000m up the Rwenzori mountain range (though perhaps somewhat underequipped!) during the holiday week.

If you’re interested in a fulfilling and challenging volunteering experience, where you learn a lot about international development on the ground and gain a wide array of transferable skills, then I strongly recommend becoming a part of EPAfrica 2013-2014.

Application forms can be found at on their website.

For further information on volunteering overseas check out the LSE Volunteer Centre. Below are some photos of Jam’s time in Uganda.